Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dos presidentes

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took a pretend oath of office on Nov. 20, 2006.


Like a lot of countries, Mexico has a federal government. It meets in a number of imposing colonial and modern buildings around the country. But Mexico has another body, the so-called "Legitimate Government," which claims to be running the republic, too. It meets here in the capital every 15 days in a former garage at 64 San Luis Potosí St.

There, on a recent evening, sat Bernardo Bátiz Vázquez, the Legitimate Government's attorney general, shuffling papers on a foldout table. Not far away was Health Secretary Asa Cristina Laurell, a half dozen other ministers, representatives from various Mexican states, and handlers. At the head of the table sat Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

"You may call me the Legitimate President of Mexico," he said in an interview.

Modest, isn't he?

But while the leftist has faded from international headlines, he never really went away in Mexico. He went on to found a parallel executive branch of government that proposes new laws, issues statements, holds elections, officiates during Mexican Independence Day, and even circulates its own form of identification card for Mexicans (some 2.8 million Mexicans carry them, according to a Legitimate Government spokesman).

Some Mexican newspapers have journalists assigned to cover this imaginary government. "I've been doing this for years," says Heliodoro Cárdenas, a reporter from the Mexico City daily El Milenio. Did he volunteer for the beat? "No, I was sent." He adds: "It's difficult to cover, shall we say, Mexico's political ugly duckling."

While Mr. Cárdenas thinks there was a strong likelihood of fraud in 2006, he says Mr. López Obrador understands he's not actually running the republic. "It's a strategy to raise his political profile," he says. If so, it hasn't paid dividends. Support for the leftist hovers at around 16% of the population -- about half what he got in the 2006 election -- according to a June poll in the Mexican daily La Reforma.

Imaginary executive branches of the government have their problems, too. Héctor Vasconcelos, the secretary of international affairs of the Legitimate Government, has had trouble getting any country to recognize his title, despite his many trips abroad, including one to Ecuador to fete the presidential inauguration of leftist Rafael Correa.

If even Correa's government didn't bite, that's sad.

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